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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

High Expectations: Students Learn to Rise to the Occasion

Through a focus on teamwork, individualized instruction, and ongoing assessment, this K-6 school is improving the achievement of minority and low-income students. Read the article.
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High Expectations: Students Learn to Rise to the Occasion (Transcript)

Susan Corey: Let's get started. "Dear Super Duper Boys and Girls."

Narrator: It's the start of a super day in Susan Corey's kindergarten class at Fabian Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.

Susan Corey: Who is super duper in this room?

Students: I am!

Narrator: Across the hall fellow kindergarten teacher Felipe Lara is having a different kind of morning.

Student: I want my mama!

Felipe Lara: Oh you want your mama? Why don't you get a Kleenex so we can blow your nose? Come on, let's go.

It's kind of like a magician. You redirect, you know. They're focused on one thing and then you just get a Kleenex, that was a redirection and then they just need that little focus to get back and then it's over.

Teacher: That's what we're looking for. To see what sound you're hearing. Good job, yeah, yay.

Narrator: The subtle magic of teaching at Fabian has produced remarkable results. In a school where nearly three-quarters of the students receive free or reduced lunch, ninety-seven percent of the school's fifth graders met or exceeded state standards for both reading and math in 2005. Most here would agree that the key to achieving such high standards is to expect nothing less.

Meredith Caldwell: We all hold-

Mary Harbolt: Very high expectations-

Susan Corey: That they all can learn-

Meredith Caldwell: And we believe in them-

Mary Harbolt: We teach them to set goals for themselves.

Susan Corey: And it's just understood here that of course you're going to learn.

Meredith Caldwell: And they really do rise to the occasion.

Kyleshia: Having expectation is a good thing because you can actually- is like setting your goal and your benchmark.

Felipe Lara: Let's find out the 15, which in those 15?

Narrator: To help students achieve their lofty goals teachers engage parents as partners by visiting their homes before the first day of kindergarten.

Susan Corey: We always make home visits to meet the children and kind of on their territory. It makes them a little more comfortable and it kind of shows us a little bit about their life.

Felipe Lara: I think it makes them not so scared of kindergarten because they've already seen us. They've already talked to us and that helps us as well, the home visit.

Student: Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.

Narrator: Teachers also work in grade-level teams.

TaKiyah Williams: This is Monday right?

Narrator: TaKiyah Williams and Meredith Caldwell spend two hours each week planning their first grade lessons together.

Meredith Caldwell: This will be good. This is part of commun- you know neighborhood. If they have a library in their neighborhood we can tie that in.

TaKiyah Williams: Into it, yeah.

Meredith Caldwell: Into that as well.

TaKiyah Williams: I just love working with my peers. We are a unit and I can go back to Susan or I can go back to Felipe and I can go to Meredith anytime and say "Hey, this is the situation here. What can we do to solve it?" And we all put a piece into it and come up with some great examples of what we need to do as a staff. You know we reach out to each other.

Mary Harbolt: I was thinking we should go over all the little pieces that we feel they kind of have gaps with.

Narrator: Fourth grade teachers Mary Harbolt and Gail Quigley take the teamwork concept even further. With the help of student teacher Anna [Inaudible] they team teach 36 students in two shared classrooms.

Mary Harbolt: For shared reading slash writing we have you teaching a grammar lesson.

Anna [Inaudible]: Okay.

Mary Harbolt: Do you want to continue doing that?

Anna [Inaudible]: Yeah, that's fine. We're working through that book.

Mary Harbolt: There's more to being an educator than just teaching. You have parents calling. You have students who have questions. Constant paperwork and so you always have one teacher who can keep an eye out while the other one is teaching. And it really saves time for us as well. We can spend more time focusing on the kids and focusing on the learning than on did they turn in their homework?

Narrator: Another key element in Fabian's success is a social-emotional learning curriculum called Life Skills which is taught at every grade level.

Mary Harbolt: Everyone in here has really been using the Life Skill of initiative to try to keep the floor picked up. And to keep-

Moly Chun: We are working really hard on infusing in children the idea of being a citizen, you know, a good citizen of this school and this city and state, and what it means to be respectful. What it means to give back. What it means to be a good friend.

Mary Harbolt: Who can help these three people out?

Narrator: Fourth graders spend 20 minutes each day using the life skills they've learned to resolve everyday conflicts like cutting into a game line.

Student: He could have said "Okay" because the line goes by quick when nobody argues and stuff.

Mary Harbolt: We learned that, didn't we? Using the life skill cooperation we can play a lot faster, can't we?

Student: Yes.

Mary Harbolt: Does anyone have another piece of advice for them? This gives us something to talk about. This gives us real moments. There's programs out there that teach the life skills in a different manner but it's a canned program, meaning you hold up a poster and you say "This is Billy, this is Jenny. They're fighting over a ball. How can we help them?" Whereas today there were actual examples of conflict and it applied to them.

Student: You could have went to another Four Square and you could have walked away from the situation.

Mary Harbolt: That was a good one. I like the walking away. We have a lot of Four Square games going don't we?

Narrator: The school's high scores in English are the result of an intense focus on reading and writing skills.

Mary Harbolt: Your story is going to be told from the point of view of one of these characters, and they're going to explain what happened.

Narrator: And lessons in the basics are often enhanced by new technology tools.

Mary Harbolt: Ladies and gentlemen, this is where we're going to have to use the life skill of flexibility and patience, because we need to get into the server. And here comes my inspiration starter.

Part of teaching has to do with entertaining. You need to hook them. You need to catch their attention.

Student: See? "R".

Student: Oh yeah.

Mary Harbolt: And that's what technology does. It sucks them in. It makes them interested in their learning.

Kyleshia: Okay, so I'm going to look for a person.

Mary Harbolt: I like that idea. That's a good strategy.

Kyleshia: In the class we're always usually calm and quiet and we're not always chatter-bugs and we usually listen to the teachers. And the teachers really are excellent teachers at their jobs because they actually they do learning and at the same time they do fun things.

Student: "Grandma didn't have a change."

Narrator: Teachers aren't the only ones who teach here. Second graders regularly read to kindergarteners.

Student: "According to my research phytoplankton live in the part of the ocean near the surface that gets sunlight."

Narrator: Community volunteers also come into the school to spend time reading with the students.

Student: "Two."

Community volunteer: Two what?

Student: "Pears, but he was still hungry."

Susan Corey: We read books every day, sometimes two and three times a day depending on the children and they love stories.

Felipe Lara: Point to it if you see the squirrel.

Susan Corey: I mean most of the time a lot of these kids have not heard stories too often at home so they love this and all I ask them to do is to sit quietly and listen.

Felipe Lara: "A world far away inside my"?

Student: Body!

Felipe Lara: "Head" because he's using her imagination.

Student: Imagination!

Felipe Lara: Oh I like the way Monte said "imagination."

Narrator: In the end, Fabian's phenomenal success is the product of dedicated teachers working together to realize the potential they see in every child.

Meredith Caldwell: And tell me one thing about it.

TaKiyah Williams: We have kids' lives in our hands that we are responsible for. And no matter what's happening the ultimate goal that we set up is that we have to make sure that we are giving each kid an opportunity to be successful.

And what about these two?

Student: Six.

TaKiyah Williams: What about these two?

Student: Seven, eight.

Susan Corey: Maybe we haven't done it right the first time, we think oh they'll learn this way and they don't, but if we try another method it clicks.

Oh you guys are so smart!

Molly Chun: It's about having faith for one thing in the potential of these children and then not only having the faith but then doing something with it. We believe children can learn. We believe they walk through our door and we can take them, you know, to the moon. But it's using good assessment, good strategies to make sure that happens for all children.

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Assistant Editor:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Camera Crew:

  • Lyle Morgan
  • Spence Palermo

Production Assistant:

  • Nicole Bowman


  • Naheed Attari

Special Thanks To

  • Portland Schools Foundation
  • Center for Teaching Quality

Comments (11)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

MBedan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! What a inspiring video. I love how the teachers believe in their students. They expect nothing less than excellence and the students rise to their expectations. I am impressed with the routines that the staff has set up to create success for the students. Great work - you make me proud to be a teacher!

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